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Supreme Court declines to rule on Kent School District case

The Supreme Court of the United States on Monday declined to hear a case involving the Kent School District, leaving in tact a lower court's decision that the district did not violate student rights when the district rejected a request for a Christian club in 2001 at Kentridge High School.

The court refused to hear an appeal from students seeking to form the Truth Bible Club, which would have required voting members to sign a "statement of faith" in the Bible and a pledge of "acceptance of Jesus Christ as my personal Savior," according to a April 2008 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case is based around the district's decision not to allow the club to receive recognition from the Associated Student Body, which would have brought some school funding, an advisor and access to increased advertising in the school.

"The core issue is whether an ASB club can establish membership criteria that discriminate based on religion, i.e., to be a member of this club, members had to make a statement of faith (in Jesus)," said Charles Lind, attorney for the Kent School District, in a phone interview Monday. Lind was not with the district during the original case.

While the club would allow anyone to attend, only members could vote on club officers and policy, Lind said.

Lind said the club was denied ASB status because the statement of faith would have been discriminatory.

"We aren't going to grant ASB status to a club that discriminates based on race or religion," he said, adding "We wouldn't allow an African-American club that let only African-Americans become members."

The district allows religious clubs both at the school and in the district, but the statement of faith would have taken it too far.

"That's basically a religious test for membership into an ASB club," he said.

Several religiously affiliated clubs, such as Young Life, routinely meet on school campuses, though none are granted ASB status.

"We welcome those groups," Lind said. "The question here was a club that has ASB status."

Though the denial from the Supreme Court reaffirms the decision by the 9th Circuit, the original decision left some questions unanswered and to be decided by the district court, such as if the policy was uniformly applied in Kent.

According to Tim Chandler, a legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Memphis-based Christian group that represented the plaintiffs in the case, there is evidence of two clubs in the Kent School District that discriminate on the basis of gender, called the "Mens' Honor Club" and the "Girls' Honor Club," though Lind said there are no gender-based honor clubs active in the district and he is uncertain the last time they existed.

The decision to continue the case will be up to the plaintiffs, but Chandler said ADF was ready to continue to move forward.

"We're very disappointed the Supreme Court chose not to hear the case," he said.

To read the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, visit http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2008/09/08/0435876.pdf.

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